It’s always nice to pop back to see Cemeteries we’ve visited before, and as we’ve found on previous excursions, highlighted in the last visit I made with Nick over nine months ago, Kensal Green is so big it’s impossible to see everything in one visit.
181 years on and 65,000 graves later, The Cemetery of All Souls still provides a resting place for Londoners and it was on an overcast Saturday last weekend I, Steve and a number of Westminster Guides met outside the Anglican Chapel for a special tour led by Henry Vivian Neal (a friend and head guide of this huge 72 acre Victorian Valhalla).
We were led into the crumbling Chapel and warmly welcomed. Henry gave us an overview on the situation that led to Kensal Green’s creation, and some of the fantastic solutions that were thrown around to try and deal with the terrifying situation that awaited all Londoners if they popped their clogs. Plans for a great Pyramid that would have covered an area the size of Russell Square and a necropolis that would have covered most of Primrose Hill – an area long earmarked for funerary needs – were just some of the radical ideas being passed around, before a particularly unpleasant Barrister by the name of George Frederick Carden gained enough support to purchase land for the new venture.
Off we embarked on a tour of the great and the good. A quick trip to the catacombs to see the rotting coffins slumbering quietly in perpetual darkness, to which I had to be firmly dragged away from as I found out they were still functioning and open to new residents. As we resurfaced, we were treated to the recently restored monument to the man who walked over Niagara Falls on a tightrope; the Egyptian-style Mausoleum to Prince William’s predecessor and Queen Victoria’s Aunt and Uncle, who’s burial made the fortunes of Kensal Green unstoppable.
The monument to William Mulready is one the finest I’ve ever come across. Mulready was an Irish genre painter who was known for his depictions of rural scenes, as well as creating Mulready stationery (at roughly the same time as the Penny Black). It featured the rear of a nude male, barely visible in all honesty, but fearful for the delicate sensibilities of young maidens in education, headmistresses up and down the land banned their students from receiving them, as this clearly flew in the face of proper Victorian standards. Nowadays, you only have to turn on the TV to see the likes of Geordie Shore and company flashing as much flesh as humanly possible. Oh, how times have changed…!
Made of artificial stone, this triumph of design truly reflects the man it seeks to commemorate. Around the waist of the intricately designed tomb are friezes of some of his best known paintings. It’s to the rear of his memorial that a peculiar thing can be seen – the grave of John Phillip R.A. Literally forced right up against Mulready, its been insinuated, although never proven, that perhaps a homosexual relationship existed between the two at some stage and the fondness was represented after death.
The evening started to draw in and we retreated to the warm safety of the Dissenter’s Chapel where tea and biscuits were provided to counter the autumnal chill in the air. Once Henry was thanked for an excellent tour, we decided we needed sustenance to replenish us after our journey amongst the marble and granite. As with any Cemetery Club visit, Joanna, Ray, Steve and I decided to round off the day the only way we knew how…
Thank you to Henry, the Friends of Kensal Green and Lee Jackson for information regarding George Frederick Carden.